Shopping my Favorite Bluetooth Headset, for Gaming and Binging
No cords, no problem
Go to any online retailer and there are hundreds of Bluetooth Headsets to choose from, and they can range anywhere from $19 to well over $400 a pair. While audiophiles usually have their own unique method of searching for a new pair of headphones, gamers, video-streamers, and general music and podcast lovers, don’t usually have time to filter through the hundreds of results to find exactly what they need without all the extras. I had free time this month while waiting between Review segments, and found a few pairs between $99 and $199 that should fit any general need, on any Bluetooth device. After opening box after box, and pairing a dozen or more headsets, I found a great pair from Sony that seemed to work perfectly in every scenario.
As for criteria, I’ve had Bluetooth headphones/headsets in the past that dropped out constantly (or at best intermittently) when I was streaming videos on Netflix, YouTube or Hulu, and that made them useless. Almost all Bluetooth enabled headphones that are 3.0 or higher can handle music (depending on the compression rate) but video can put a lot of strain on cheaper brands. This time around I wanted a pair that would have a constant connection (at least while I was sitting with my computer or laptop) and I was willing to pay a little more for the feature. I also wanted a pair that would work anywhere I needed them to, so easy connections to iOS, Mac, Windows, Android and Kindle. Since they are Bluetooth this wasn’t hard, but finding ones that paired the first time I wanted them to, was a little harder.
The pair that I personally stuck with are the Sony MDR-XB650BT Bluetooth Headphones, though Sony has newer models out now if you like to shop the latest and greatest. At just $98 on Amazon they are a terrific bargain, and offer up to 30 hours of use before they need to be charged. (A quick tip, pressing the power once while they are powered-on will have the audio-voice tell you the battery status).
After a few weeks of testing them with “Overwatch” on PC, watching dozens of hours of video on Netflix and Hulu, and powering through countless YouTube videos, I’ve never lost connection or had any interruptions. The walls in my brownstone can certainly mess with both WiFi and Bluetooth connections, so leaving the room usually meant that the sound would break-up for me, but I wasn’t looking for a pair with great distance. I wanted them for streaming, games, and commuting, and through all of those scenarios, they have been amazing. If you need a pair that work above the 20ft range, you might want to spend a bit more, but for general use they are perfect. The MDR-XB650BTs aren’t the lightest models that Sony offers, but even after hours of use they don’t get hot or hurt my ears (or my head). They actually only weigh-in at 1.2 lbs, but Sony offers cheaper wired options that are about half-that weight. At 1.2 lbs they are still pretty light, especially when compared to over-the-ear headphones that can weigh up to 2 lbs or more. Like all the headsets I’m going to list, they come with a mic, and are compatible with Mac, PC, Android and iOS.
The newer Sony models are the Sony MDRXB-950BT line, which offer up to 20hrs of use but have updated 40mm drivers. They are a little better than the Sony MDR-XB650BT models that I ended up keeping, but you will have to pay a higher price for the black model. If you don’t mind red or blue, you can grab them on sale for $99 as well on Amazon.
Sony also released the Sony XB-950N1, which are wireless as well but also offer noise canceling tech. Since the price-tag for this set was $249 I decided to leave them out of the comparison shopping. I did test them and found them to be a wonderful choice, but if you are a general user that doesn’t need noise cancellation, you can save up to $150 and go with the first two models.
If you use them on Windows 10, I would also recommend buying the Dolby Access app, which adds spacial sound options to your headsets when using them on your PC. You can test the app for free, and I recommend it to everyone now. It really enhances films, games, music and even YouTube videos, and you can still adjust all your sound settings in-game or on your device. The app was designed for headphones, though other options are worth exploring. You can find the app in the Windows 10 store.
Now Bluetooth and gaming don’t usually get along, even wireless keyboards and mice are often scorned for the possibility of input lag or faulty connections, but I wouldn’t go back to wired. While keyboards still have a way to go in this area, mice and Bluetooth Headphones have actually come a long way, and unless you are playing in the competitive eSports arena, I would suggest giving newer Bluetooth models a test run. Gaming was the reason I actually began this search, and after a few weeks of testing, I haven’t noticed a difference in reliably or input LAG over wired. Now older models will certainly cause problems, so keep that in mind when shopping for deals on websites.
Now again, these options are not the best of the best out there, they are my personal choice that I found to be at the nexus of price and functionality for a dedicated internet streamer and gamer. You get all the benefits of a stable, easily managed connection, with some very impressive sound at a great price.